Gov. Edwards unveils his plan to fix $304M budget shortfall

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Governor John Bel Edwards took the wraps off a plan to fix the state's $304 million mid-year shortfall Monday. The plan relies on a combination of cuts, savings, and the use of the "Rainy Day Fund."

Under the governor's proposal, only about $60 million comes in the form of outright cuts. That includes reductions to the budgets of the legislature, the judiciary, the Office of the Governor, and the Office of the Attorney General.

Several offices in the Department of Health will also receive cuts. For example, the state's partnership hospitals that treat the uninsured, including Our Lady of the Lake in Baton Rouge, would see their budget trimmed by about 1 percent.

"We have spent the last Friday and over the weekend working with them to make sure the cuts don't jeopardize the ability to go forward. We believe that is the case," Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

Meanwhile, the proposal spares K-12 schools, the Department of Public Safety and Corrections, and the Department of Children and Family Services, and the healthcare waivers that help the disabled and elderly from further cuts.

Higher education is also protected from cuts. LSU alone has received 16 cuts over the last nine years, according to President F. King Alexander.

In addition to budget reductions, the proposal also takes advantage of some savings in state agencies and nearly $100 million in finance swaps. A Medicaid payment for dental care is also delayed by a month.

Finally, Edwards' plan calls for the use of $119.6 million in one-time dollars from the state's "Rainy Day Fund" – state dollars set aside for economic emergencies.

"It isn't that you access rainy day funds just because you want to, you do you it to avoid those very, very painful cuts to critical priorities," Edwards said.

Whether or not to use the rainy day dollars will likely be the central fight of the special session, which begins February 13. A two-thirds vote of the legislature is required to use those fund dollars.

Senate President John Alario, R Westwego, supports using the fund and the Senate will likely follow his lead. The House is shaping up to be another story. Several House conservatives have expressed opposition to raiding the fund.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible to tap into the Rainy Day Fund to sweep one-time money to pay for recurring expenses. That would be precisely the same old budget gimmicks that helped get us into this fiscal mess," said Rep. Paula Davis, R-Baton Rouge, in a post on Facebook Sunday.

The governor, who has advocated for not using one-time funds creating budgets, defended his call to use the one-time money to fix the budget.

"We're not planning a budget year for next year by using one-time-money. The budget that we are in incorporated no one-time money against recurring expenditures," Edwards said.

Still, the governor believes lawmakers will get on board with using the "Rainy Day Fund" once they consider the alternatives.

"If members of the legislature believe they have cuts they would rather make, we are interested in seeing those. We haven't seen them thus far," Edwards said.

Already, some state leaders are sounding off in opposition to the budget proposal. The office of Attorney General Jeff Landry tweeted that the proposed cuts to his department are "devastating" and could potentially jeopardize the services performed by the office.

Legislators, who have the ultimate say on the shape of the budget, will be returning to Baton Rouge next Monday for a special session aimed at addressing the budget shortfall.

The full plan can be read below:

Copyright 2017 WAFB. All rights reserved.